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Social media may be the easiest (and best) way to network

An Apple iPhone displays Facebook's messaging app on May 10, 2012 in Washington, DC.  An Apple iPhone displays Facebook's messaging app on May 10, 2012 in Washington, DC.
An Apple iPhone displays Facebook's messaging app on May 10, 2012 in Washington, DC. Photograph by Brendan Smialowski — AFP/Getty Images

The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “To get ahead in business, is it better to have skills or connections?” is written by Carmencita Bua, COO of Continuum.

Anyone who wishes to improve their intellect and accelerate their career will know that making connections is one of the most important skills to have. And using your social networks effectively is the first step.

The ancient Greeks used social networking long before the birth of Steve Jobs’ great-great-great-grandmother. Their network was called the agora, which might be a good name for a social network one day (just a thought).

The agora was the public square—the place people gathered to talk business, share ideas, influence public life, and enjoy existence through art and beauty. The citizens of the agora were expected to “influence” the discussion. When people had something relevant to say, they would become leaders in their community. The architecture of the agora was in fact an “enclosed platform” in which everyone was accepted but only few had “followers,” and only thought leaders had the power to build momentum to disrupt the status quo.

Sound familiar?

It probably does, if you’re the sort of professional whose career runs on relationships and ideas. If so, you’re also probably involved in one or more professional Facebook groups, use Twitter to stay updated on business news, and connect via LinkedIn immediately after meeting an interesting new colleague or acquaintance.

Quiet professionals take note: social media isn’t just for extroverts. It’s one of the great gifts modern technology has given to introverts. Social networking allows you to enrich your knowledge though active virtual discussions and without stepping into a conference room.

Better yet, strategic networking is both fun and interesting when done with social media. But it must be done correctly. When you reach out, do so with purpose. Always be sure to connect with people who have something to teach you.

Some of the world’s greatest thinkers are now a tweet, post or comment away. You can get their attention, but it will require some work. Earn your intellectual capital by reading great books and articles, and then go online to ask questions of the people who wrote them. Speak intelligently, listen well, and add them to your professional network. Influence external discussion and you will increase your value to your company (and yourself).

Your position in the digital “agora” and your place as an active participant in relevant discussions, is what matters when building your network. Numbers here are far—far—less important than the quality and content of these connections.

So, go make valuable connections. Improve yourself. And start getting ahead.

Read all answers to the Leadership Insider question: To get ahead in business, is it better to have skills or connections?

Why networking may not be as useful as you think by Robert Sloan, managing director and head of executive talent assessment at Sheffield Haworth.

Forget being polite, here’s how to really network by Mike Del Ponte, co-founder of Soma.

Why networking means zilch if you don’t know yourself by David Reese, vice president of people and culture at Medallia.

Why talent will only take you so far in business by Derek Lidow, author of “Startup Leadership: How Savvy Entrepreneurs Turn Their Ideas Into Successful Enterprises.”

To get ahead in business, why connections matter by Christine M. Aylward, managing director of Foresite Capital Management.